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Powering the Future with GaN

Generally, when I think of semiconductors and transistors, I think of silicon devices. That could be changing as alternative technologies begin to mature, especially in the realm of power. Gallium Nitride, or GaN, is one such alternative. Engineers are always trying to squeeze more out of less and one of the biggest advantages of GaN-based systems is improved power density. GaN devices can switch faster and handle more current than silicon devices in a smaller package. Sounds great, right?

As you may have guessed, these advantages aren’t quite free. GaN FETs are a lot pickier about how much voltage you apply at the gate so using a proper gate driver is important. Texas Instruments’ LMG1210, for example, is a driver that will keep the gate voltage safely regulated at 5 V. They have a half-bridge driver reference design that combines their driver with EPC’s enhancement mode GaN FETs and inductors from Wurth. Their solution can operate at up to 50 MHz, showing off the high speed switching capabilities of GaN while keeping a small PCB footprint.

Block diagram of TIDA-01634 reference design (Image source: Texas Instruments)

DC/DC converters are one of the major applications for GaN technology because of the higher efficiency and small size. But while more efficient power supplies are always nice, there are some other, more glamorous applications for GaN, too. If audio is your thing, GaN-based Class D amplifiers can achieve less distortion than their silicon counterparts. Or my personal favorite application, higher resolution LIDAR drivers.

(Image source: EPC)

At the end of the day, it’s nice to have more options. If you’re feeling like your silicon power stage just isn’t cutting it anymore, GaN is a great avenue to check out.

About this author

Image of Taylor Roorda Taylor Roorda, Associate Applications Engineer at Digi-Key Electronics, joined the organization in 2015 with primary areas of interest around embedded systems, programmable logic and signal processing. He holds a Bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering from North Dakota State University and spends his free time playing guitar and writing music.
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